We cover quite a lot of university and research institute news here on CleanTechnica. I know a lot of readers love that stuff, but there’s an important downside to news from those sources that is quite prevalent. That news is often overly colorful, optimistic, and revolutionary in its style of writing. Some of those advances will make an impact, some will make a huge impact, but almost none of them are starting a technological revolution any time soon.
Why am I mentioning all of those? Because hydrogen is a cleantech topic that gets a lot of attention in these places, and a lot of people think a hydrogen revolution is being repressed and there’s a conspiracy to keep it from the market. Not the case. Hydrogen has a good deal of potential and is used somewhat in a variety of arenas — energy storage and transportation, most notably. But it is actually not ready for the big time yet.
A new factbook on hydrogen, Hydrogen-Based Energy Conversion — More than Storage: System Flexibility*, really deals with hydrogen’s potential and limitations in a realistic and useful way.
Part of a primer sent to me along with the report, here are a few summary paragraphs:
According to the Factbook, the value of hydrogen-based solutions lies predominantly in their ability to convert renewable power into chemical energy carriers. But hydrogen is more than just an energy carrier. Utilizing the current energy networks hydrogen also acts as a bridge between the different branches of the energy supply system — optimizing the use of energy generated from renewable power at the energy-system level.
The main challenge for hydrogen conversion, however, lies not in its technology but in its economics. Most technologies in the hydrogen value-chain are proved, albeit at different stages of maturity. The FactBook considers that cost reduction is the next prerequisite on the road to commercialization, especially for flexible water electrolysis technologies. Beyond innovations that could disrupt the technology landscape, the principal areas of focus is engineering and manufacturing to allow for greater scalability and capitalize on accumulated knowledge.
Costs are only one side of the commercialization equation. The versatility of hydrogen opens the way to a wide range of end-uses that valorize the power conversion to hydrogen as a service or the hydrogen generated as a product. However, the benefits of hydrogen solutions remain difficult to assess and monetize as most end-markets are virtually non-existent today and are subject to the growing penetration of variable renewables.
If you take a stroll through the Factbook, you will see that is is extremely thorough and is a very science-based report. Of course, I haven’t made my way through the complete report yet — it’s a 280-page PDF! But from what I’ve read, it matches up excellently with the most useful information I’ve ever found on some key hydrogen topics, and then adds much more. Without a doubt, this is going to be my go-to source for information, context, and perspective on hydrogen and hydrogen-related topics for the foreseeable future.
By the way, there’s even a “history of hydrogen” timeline that extends back to 1766 (when H2 was discovered).
There’s no comparison to simply going through the report, but to wrap up this article, I’ll just share a handful of charts, graphs, and diagrams (which I know our readers love) from the report that I found particularly interesting or useful. Have a look:
Needless to say, there are some simplistic charts, but there are also a ton of very detailed charts that pack in more info than many articles on the subject (but in a digestible way). One last time: just go scroll through the report, and be sure to bookmark it for future reference.
*Coverage of this report was financially supported by the SBC Energy Institute.